Can Texans Sue ERCOT For Not Keeping Power On During Winter Storms?

That decision, many legal experts believe, lies with the Texas Supreme Court.

Video Transcript

- Welcome back. Some Texas families who lost loved ones during the power outages last week are suing their electrical company and ERCOT for failing to keep the power on. But the big question, will those suits go anywhere? Ken Molestina looking into that story, all new at 5 o'clock for us, Ken?

KEN MOLESTINA: Yeah Dex. So Texans can sue ERCOT, but it is still unclear if the lawsuits will be ultimately dismissed. Many believe that decision lies with the Texas Supreme Court.

KEN MOLESTINA (VOICEOVER): Doyel Austin lived a good life.

LARRY TAYLOR: Mr. Austin was a Negro League Baseball player and a hero to the family. And just immensely loved by all.

KEN MOLESTINA (VOICEOVER): But his family says life was cut short by the power outage.

LARRY TAYLOR: Next Tuesday would have been his birthday. So you go from planning a birthday celebration to planning a funeral unexpectedly. It doesn't sit well with your emotion.

KEN MOLESTINA (VOICEOVER): The family is now filing a complaint against their electric provider, CenterPoint and ERCOT, alleging gross negligence. The attorney says Mr. Austin was found dead inside his home after losing power for nearly three days. The temperatures outside were below freezing. He was 95 years old.

ERIC CEDILLO: They're immune from lawsuits because of their governmental function.

KEN MOLESTINA (VOICEOVER): Eric Cedillo, an SMU law professor, says suing ERCOT may be an uphill battle, because ERCOT, while a private company, is overseen by the state. There's a case before Texas Supreme Court right now that could have serious implications on the lawsuits being filed.

ERIC CEDILLO: They are making a determination currently in the Texas Supreme Court whether or not you can sue ERCOT for these issues. Whether or not they're entitled to sovereign immunity or not.

KEN MOLESTINA (VOICEOVER): The pending decision in the Supreme Court involves a 2016 case involving an electric company.

ERIC CEDILLO: So it's a situation that I think a lot of people are waiting on. But at present they are being sued, but if the Supreme Court comes back with, they cannot not be sued, then there's a very real possibility that many of those lawsuits against ERCOT can be dismissed.

KEN MOLESTINA: And while you can sue ERCOT, there is no guarantee that the case will go to trial. Legal experts say, electric companies like CenterPoint energy have no legal protections from lawsuits. Now we did reach out to CenterPoint and ERCOT who said they were unable to comment on pending litigation and specific cases. We do have their full statement online at cbsdfw.com.